NFL Powers Starting To Put The Hammer Down
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
NFL POWERS STARTING TO PUT THE HAMMER DOWN
After a couple months of parity ruling the day in pro football, this past Sunday saw some dominant performances from many of the league powers. This really shows up in our Drive Point category (those scored and allowed on drives of 30 yards or more), but is also clearly visible in rushing yardage and third down conversions.
What does that mean?
- You're starting to see some bad teams losing hope, as well as some bad contenders in weak divisions taking their beatings one week so they can come back strong in easier divisional games down the road.
- Super Bowl contenders are starting to reach for that extra gear that will clinch their playoff spots and possibly a bye week.
If the second plays the first...you get Green Bay over Dallas, or the NY Giants over Seattle.
It's Wednesday, which means its time to crunch the numbers from this past week's NFL action. Our expanded previews begin tomorrow, the first Thursday of the season for pro football action. The NFL will play at least one Thursday game from this point forward for several weeks now, so you'll post stat previews on that day in the NOTEBOOK.
Results/Stats are presented in rotation order so you can make notes in your schedule...
CHICAGO 22, BUFFALO 19
Rushing Yardage: Chicago 105, Buffalo 46
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Chicago 14, Buffalo 13
Third Down Percentage: Chicago 58%, Buffalo 62%
NOTEBOOK: A very close game outside of rushing yardage, with the Bears edge in that category allowing them to move the ball with less risk. Chicago won the turnover category 1-3, largely because they only threw 30 passes compared to 52 for the Bills. Buffalo's not as bad as their 0-8 record would suggest. Hopefully they'll break through soon in a way that rewards all of their recent effort. Chicago is 5-3, but looks to be one of the worst midseason winning teams of the decade. Their schedule is bound to get tougher from this point forward. Couldn't get much easier.
SAN DIEGO 29, HOUSTON 23
Rushing Yardage: San Diego 77, Houston 140
Drive Points (60+ Yds): San Diego 29, Houston 9
Third Down Percentage: San Diego 44%, Houston 46%
NOTEBOOK: We keep pointing out that San Diego is a potent Drive Point juggernaut, but they need to avoid turnovers to win. They only committed two in this one, and held on to a tight victory because Houston gave the ball away on what was likely to be a game winning drive. San Diego is known for making late runs. The recent surge that has them up to 4-5 shouldn't surprise anyone. Houston is 4-4, and you'll see tomorrow that they have the worst Drive Point defense BY A MILE in pro football. We talked about that when previewing Indy/Houston last week. It's gotten worse!
NEW ORLEANS 34, CAROLINA 3
Rushing Yardage: New Orleans 165, Carolina 127
Drive Points (60+ Yds): New Orleans 10, Carolina 0
Third Down Percentage: New Orleans 50%, Carolina 8%
NOTEBOOK: The stats don't capture the full extent of the domination. Carolina was just 17-36-1-68 passing. New Orleans is finally moving in the right direction after a slow start to the season. They're still not back to last year's form though. Carolina has no options at quarterback. The win over San Francisco was a short term illusion that really makes the 49ers look bad now. Carolina is 1-7, but ranks as the worst team in the league in most respected power ratings. New Orleans is 6-3, and ready for a bye week that would have helped them much more if it came a month ago.
MINNESOTA 27, ARIZONA 24 (in overtime)
Rushing Yardage: Arizona 53, Minnesota 80
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Arizona 10, Minnesota 10
Third Down Percentage: Arizona 23%, Minnesota 25%
NOTEBOOK: Brett Favre loves pulling miracle victories out of a hat. You can see here that the team doesn't have much to be proud of. Yes, Favre can outpass a bad opposing quarterback. He had to post huge numbers (427 passing yards) just to eke out an overtime victory over one of the worst road teams of the past few years. You got the sense that half the Vikings were trying to lose to get Coach Childress fired, and the other half wanted to pad their stats against a bad visitor. Minnesota stays alive as a playoff longshot at 3-5. Arizona is also 3-5, but is in a division where 7-9 might get the trophy.
ATLANTA 27, TAMPA BAY 21
Rushing Yardage: Tampa Bay 96, Atlanta 130
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Tampa Bay 7, Atlanta 17
Third Down Percentage: Tampa Bay 61%, Atlanta 57%
NOTEBOOK: Tampa Bay had a kickoff return TD, which helped make up for their Drive Point deficit. The Bucs certainly impressed on third downs (a great sign for a young QB), and held their own on the ground. We like Atlanta as a Super Bowl threat in the NFC. Tampa Bay is becoming more legitimate with each passing week (though a soft schedule has helped them). The Falcons are 6-2, and have the look of a bye team, at least when they play at home. Tampa Bay is 5-3, and will help make the Wildcard race interesting in the NFC.
NY JETS 23, DETROIT 20 (in overtime)
Rushing Yardage: NY Jets 110, Detroit 78
Drive Points (60+ Yds): NY Jets 13, Detroit 14
Third Down Percentage: NY Jets 38%, Detroit 33%
NOTEBOOK: The Jets were lucky to get the win here, and certainly didn't impress in a bounce-back spot off the shutout loss to Green Bay. Detroit's improving, but still isn't very good. If you're a real Super Bowl threat, like the Jets say they are, then you shouldn't be trailing the Lions 20-10 in the fourth quarter. Detroit falls to 2-6 (but has covered seven of eight against the spread). The Jets are 6-2, but have lost that aura of invincibility that cloaked them after the blowout win over New England.
BALTIMORE 26, MIAMI 10
Rushing Yardage: Miami 73, Baltimore 146
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Miami 10, Baltimore 17
Third Down Percentage: Miami 50%, Baltimore 46%
NOTEBOOK: Baltimore won turnovers 3-0, but really didn't do that much with the edge on a day where they settled for four field goals. A win is a win. But, Miami was tired and beat up...and the stage was set for a monster margin. If not for the turnovers, this is the same kind of nailbiter finish that Baltimore had vs. Buffalo, and Miami had vs. Pittsburgh. The Ravens are 6-2, and at least have a very clean win to look back on in terms of execution. Miami falls to 4-4 vs. a killer schedule. Stick Miami in the NFC West and they might be 7-1.
CLEVELAND 34, NEW ENGLAND 14
Rushing Yardage: New England 68, Cleveland 230
Drive Points (60+ Yds): New England 14, Cleveland 24
Third Down Percentage: New England 27%, Cleveland 53%
NOTEBOOK: Wow! Cleveland's win over New Orleans a couple of weeks ago was full of cheap points and chicanery. This was a clean blowout of a high quality team. The Browns simply owned the point of attack, and marched down the field at will on a Patriots defense that's become a bigger Achilles Heel than many pundit are admitting. Colt McCoy was conservative and sharp in engineering another win. He's not as playing as well as his 3-0 record might suggest...but he's certainly avoiding mistakes and making intelligent plays. Can Cleveland get into the Wildcard race? That's tough from a 3-5 mark in the standings vs. a tough schedule. Just be aware that things are improving quickly since Mike Holmgren took control of the franchise. New England is 6-2, but didn't inspire much confidence about playoff style football with this result
NY GIANTS 41, SEATTLE 7
Rushing Yardage: NY Giants 197, Seattle 49
Drive Points (60+ Yds): NY Giants 24, Seattle 7
Third Down Percentage: NY Giants 46%, Seattle 12%
NOTEBOOK: What a laydown. Seattle had to start Charlie Whitehurst, and played like they were afraid of getting anybody else hurt. Not much to say with such dominant numbers in a blowout. The Giants are 6-2, and have established that they can dominate bad teams. The early schedule hasn't had many testers, so we're interested in seeing the second half of their schedule unfold. Seattle is 4-4, leading a bad division.
OAKLAND 23, KANSAS CITY 20 (in Overtime)
Rushing Yardage: Kansas City 104, Oakland 112
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Kansas City 0, Oakland 10
Third Down Percentage: Kansas City 20%, Oakland 25%
NOTEBOOK: Not much offense from either side in our key areas. Kansas City took a TD off the board with a very poor interception in the end zone. Oakland returned a kickoff for a TD to make up for their own wobbles. It all led to a great finish. The lack of Drive Point production and poor third down rates show you how far these teams are from the real contenders in the AFC though. As fans, we're happy that both are heading in the right direction. As analysts, we're not going to pretend that they've got farther down that path than they really have.
PHILADELPHIA 26, INDIANAPOLIS 24
Rushing Yardage: Indianapolis 62, Philadelphia 195
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Indianapolis 21, Philadelphia 17
Third Down Percentage: Indianapolis 42%, Philadelphia 46%
NOTEBOOK: Indy picked up a late garbage time TD helped by questionable officiating...so it's best to see this as a win across the board for the Eagles. The Colts were shorthanded, and had a short week of preparation off the Monday Night game. They could live with a loss and still battle for the playoffs at 5-3. Philadelphia is also 5-3, and will have an exciting battle with the NY Giants for NFC East supremacy the rest of the way.
GREEN BAY 45, DALLAS 7
Rushing Yardage: Dallas 39, Green Bay 138
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Dallas 7, Green Bay 31
Third Down Percentage: Dallas 40%, Green Bay 67%
NOTEBOOK: This game was over before it started. Wade Phillips was a lame duck coach who got no effort from his players. Funny that Green Bay kept driving the field for points even when they didn't need to any more. Must have felt good to move the ball after too many weeks of struggling. Green Bay is 6-3 and ready for a rest break. Dallas is 1-7, and looking for someplace to hide.
PITTSBURGH 27, CINCINNATI 21
Rushing Yardage: Pittsburgh 121, Cincinnati 54
Drive Points (60+ Yds): Pittsburgh 0, Cincinnati 7
Third Down Percentage: Pittsburgh 42%, Cincinnati 25%
NOTEBOOK: A game full of cheap points, as only 7 of the 48 came on long drives. Both teams committed two turnovers. Pittsburgh also blocked a punt, which doesn't count as a turnover but has a bigger impact. The Bengals fall to 2-6, and may have to make a coaching change of their own at some point. Pittsburgh is 6-2, but is taking longer to get up to speed with Ben Roethlisberger back than we would have expected.
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